At the risk of sounding redundant, there’s always something enchanting and rarefied about the watches that emerge from the creative vortex of Van Cleef & Arpels. It is a world where formal innovations are borne of meaning-making, and its latest novelties at SIHH 2016 are no less testaments to the maison’s dexterity in this almost inviolable realm of poetic timekeeping.
Beginning first with the Midnight Nuit Lumineuse watch, it features a night-styled dial made of aventurine glass that lights up on demand. This is made possible due to a piezoelectric effect, a phenomenon that produces electricity in certain materials in response to applied mechanical stress.
In this instance, the Midnight Nuit Lumineuse watch contains a strip of ceramic which, when caused to vibrate by the movement, mechanically generates electrical energy. This is used to power six electroluminescent diodes which – on demand –back-light the six diamonds visible on the dial, thereby bringing the spectacle to life. The animation creates a luminous motif for about four seconds, while time continues to be displayed on the dial. This is driven by an automatic movement with a retrograde hour and light on demand module, developed exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels, offering a 40-hour power reserve. And just in case one needs a little extra bit of heart-tugging, among the various constellations traced out in white miniature painting is that of a Unicorn.
The scene is an entrance for the eyes: the gentle luminosity of the sky rendered in bluish shades whilst mother-of-pearl clouds compose a subtle palette of greys. The graceful creatures stand out against it, their colours produced by miniature painting. While the swallow in engraved white gold is soberly clad in black, white and blue, the butterflies display joyful gradations of color: from white to pink, yellow to orange and red to yellow.
However, the delicate, childlike ebullience of the Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons belies some serious technical mastery. It plays host to the retrograde jumping hour, variable speed minutes and animation-on-demand movement. Virtuoso watchmaking expertise is applied to a ballet of butterflies moving at different speeds. In a one-hour cycle, they accelerate and then slow down again, thanks to an elliptical wheel inside the mechanism. To measure the minutes, each butterfly appears in turn between the clouds, then disappears to make way for its successor. In keeping with the Maison’s retrograde displays, the hours are indicated by the swallow, which points the tip of its wing at the twelve consecutive hours before returning to its initial position. Finally, at the push of a button, an animation takes place with the butterflies setting off on a dance around the clouds for 10 seconds.
Coalescing the technical sophistication of Poetic Complications creations with a wealth of heritage crafts is the Lady Arpels Jour Nuit Fée Ondine watch. Its narrative is centered on the Fairy Ondine who can be seen resting atop a water lily. Thanks to the dial’s rotating disk – which turns a full circle in 24 hours – the sun in yellow sapphires shines on the scene from dawn to dusk, before dipping beneath the horizon to make way for a diamond full moon. The fairy Ondine is crafted in gold and rose-cut diamond whilst the rest of the mother-of-pearl dial is awash in diamonds, yellow and pink sapphires, spessartite and tsavorite garnets. To reinforce the colour effect, grains of gold are adorned with miniature painting. Another minute but completely enthralling detail is the remarkable play on transparency produced using plique-à-jour enamel, a translucent enamel technique that is evident where the fairy’s leg lies.
Other highlights include: